Sunday, February 11, 2018

Irish National 50k Championships, Donadea

Race instruction, summed up
The annual 50k in Donadea has firmly established itself as one of the fixtures in the Irish running calendar. It offers a great opportunity for marathon runners to tip their toes into the ultra world and it works as a great training run for the ones with an eye on longer goal races. More than anything though, it's a brilliantly organised event and great fun, with RD Anto managing the fine balance of combining a well organised event with taking things not too seriously (the PC brigade might want to give this one a miss).

Anyway, as always I arrived at the event not exactly in peak shape. It was a the end of yet another reasonably high mileage week and I had even skipped the usual 1-3 days mini-taper, still doing about 10 miles even on Friday, and quite possibly overcooking myself on Thursday.

Anyway, I was looking forward to it nevertheless. I had packed both road and trail runners and a quick chat with Gary Reinhardt shortly before the start convinced me to go for the trail shoes, which should help with the muddy conditions.

We set off pretty much on time, after receiving some some brief, light-hearted final instructions. It's a 5k loop, run 10 times, with all junctions signposted and marshalled. Don't litter. What else needs to be said?

Start, photo by Teresa Bradley Taaffe
I lined up well back from the start, which ensured I would not be sucked into some stupid fast early pace. Instead I eased into the effort and ran the first mile in about 8 minutes, before getting some clear road ahead and adding a tiny bit more effort. The first lap just flew by and felt oh so easy. When I saw 7:10 and 7:05 pace on the watch I initially assumed a wonky GPS signal because surely such an easy effort would yield a slower pace but eventually realised that the watch was most likely correct and dialled it back a bit. Still, one single 7:13 mile on a slight net downhill isn't too disastrous pacing.

After that I very quickly found a very comfortable rhythm just a tad faster than 7:40 pace. The field had thinned out and settled quickly and I was running on my own for a while before Tim Brownlie caught up and we chatted for a mile or two before he headed off at his own training pace, his aimed-for 100k race pace being faster than my comfortable 50k training-run pace.

Lap 4 or 5, with Brian. Photo by Des Walsh
At lap 4 another runner appeared on my shoulder, Brian Scanlan, and we chatted for the next 2 laps, which made them fly by in no time at all and before we knew it we had reached the halfway point. Brian took this as the signal to head off and went ahead, though he always remained within view. I took my time taking some caffeine and a salt tablet, and a gel to wash them down. I was still moving well at that point but was starting to feel the effort but managed to remain on pace even without putting too much into it.

Before the race I had set the target/expectation of finishing somewhere between 3:50 and 4 hours, without killing myself and without having to dig too deep. It seemed perfectly doable. Up to now I was running comfortably at a projected 3:58 time, give or take a little. I managed two more laps at that effort but as I got closer to the marathon point I was definitely starting to feel the effort and once things started to go downhill they went downhill rather quickly.

I guess the miles caught up with me. Not today's miles, the ones I had run during this and previous weeks. I was still capable of doing basic maths. For 4 hours every lap should take 24 minutes, so that's 2:48 after 7 laps, 3:12 after 8 and 3:36 after 9. Easy enough. I was about 90 seconds ahead of that after 7 laps / 35k but at that point things started to fall apart. I clearly wasn't the only one starting to feel the effort as I caught up to Brian rather quickly and a few of the other runners I passed must have been on the same lap as me (though it can be tricky to determine if you overtake or lap a runner at that point).

Having said that, others very clearly managed to make the best of the conditions. Serial 50k winner as well as reigning Irish marathon champion Gary O'Hanlon put on a great display. He had lapped me for the first time well before I had even finished my 3rd lap and a second time before lap 6 had finished. In fact, by the time he had finished he had lapped the entire field (!!!) before setting yet another new Irish record in 2:54:39. Mind-boggling! Also, Irish Olympian Caitriona Jennings lapped me at some point on the way to her own win, making it look very easy indeed. Very impressive to watch, and a definite advantage of a looped course.

Me, though, I was now in trouble. The 8th lap was definitely a hard one, and everyone in my vicinity could hear my ragged breathing. How much that was due to my exercised-induced asthma or me just having to crank up the effort to such an extend I'm not entirely sure. I also started to slow down, despite my best efforts. Going through the start/finish area I managed to snag a bottle of Lucozade ("you're a life saver!"), though it took me the entire lap to drink it in small sips. Lap 9 was slower again, tougher again, and I didn't even waste the energy to check my time at the marathon point, though it must have been around 3:21. Plenty of effort for a 3:21 - a few months ago 3:10 in Dublin had felt a lot easier. Anyway, the marathon time is utterly meaningless in a 50k and I still had 5 miles left, and that was the only thing I was focusing on.

Going through the finish once more Anto gave me a high 5 for the last lap, but I realised I had bled a lot of time and started to doubt if I would make it under 4, especially with the legs starting to cramp on the uphills, and the pace slowing as a direct consequence. Strictly speaking I should have eased off at that point and remembered that this was first and foremost a training run but that had gone completely out of my mind and all I could think of was trying to get under 4; easing up would have felt like giving up without a fight.

The last 2.5 laps I had pushed ever harder, now I started to concentrate on trying to relax instead, which seemed to work, and the effort seemed to ease without affecting the pace, and the legs stopped going into spasm. I should have tried that approach a lot earlier, I suppose. To be honest, I was pretty sure I had missed sub-4, and when John Griffin blew past me like I was standing still I guessed I must be moving a lot slower than it felt like. But I kept going, pushed up the last hill, turned the final corner and for some reason, despite being really short-sighted and not wearing my glasses, managed to read the race clock very clearly in the distance, showing 3:59:40. I better give it some wellie, I thought, and went into a sprint finish, blowing past a couple of runners, and made it by 3 seconds, which had me crossing the line laughing out loud at the exquisite timing, though the guy right behind me cut it even finer, by a mere 0.4 seconds (as long as they don't round it up, that is).

So, strictly speaking it was mission accomplished and I was happy enough. It was definitely a lot harder than I had it expected it to be, but that may be down to me not remembering the previous attempts properly (come to think of it, the last few laps were always tough). In retrospect I think wearing the heavier trail shoes was a mistake. While they provided great grip through even the muddiest parts I never saw anyone slip and I'm pretty sure I would have been a little bit faster in my lighter road shoes, maybe even comfier. The muscles felt fine, no soreness at all, just general weariness for the rest of the day as well as for my customary 5-mile recovery run the following morning (for which I had a little devil sitting on my shoulder incessantly whispering into my ear to go home instead).

I have run the Donadea 50k 4 times now, each time getting a little bit slower (older?) but still always finishing under 4 hours. One of those sequences is bound to break next time. Anyway, I can't wait for the next installment.

Special thanks must go to Don for the lift from and to Dublin and Karina for keeping us company, Olwyn, thanks for the cakes even though I wasn't a volunteer. And of course to Anto and his crew of helpers, we wouldn't have run a single step without you guys!
8 Feb
9.75 miles, 1:11:33, 7:20 pace, HR 147
9 Feb
9.65 miles, 1:17:37, 8:02 pace, HR 134
10 Feb
Donadea 50k, 3:59:57, 7:43 pace, HR 149
   Irish 50k champs, 29th place overall, 12th M40
11 Feb
5 miles, 45:42, 9:08 pace, HR 128

1 comment:

  1. Good result Thomas. Competitive race if you're 12th A/G, I guess expected in a Championships.